Ain’t you heard?
RACE and ART
Are far apart.
—postcard from Langston Hughes to James Baldwin, 1962
By the time of his death in 1987 James Baldwin had long since become that most tragic of literary figures: a major writer on the skids whose last few published books, painful in their lack of distinction, served only to remind discriminating readers of how far he had plummeted since his glory days. And glory days they had truly been: in the late Fifties and early Sixties he was not only one of America’s most critically acclaimed authors, but, in the words of James Campbell—who has now published the first full biography of Baldwin—“practically the most famous writer in...